Effects of focus and definiteness on children's word order

Evidence from German five-year-olds' reproductions of double object constructions

Barbara Höhle*, Robin Hörnig, Thomas Weskott, Selene Knauf, Agnes Krüger

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

3 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Two experiments tested how faithfully German children aged 4Â ;5Â to 5Â ;6Â reproduce ditransitive sentences that are unmarked or marked with respect to word order and focus (Exp1) or definiteness (Exp2). Adopting an optimality theory (OT) approach, it is assumed that in the German adult grammar word order is ranked lower than focus and definiteness. Faithfulness of children's reproductions decreased as markedness of inputs increased; unmarked structures were reproduced most faithfully and unfaithful outputs had most often an unmarked form. Consistent with the OT proposal, children were more tolerant against inputs marked for word order than for focus; in conflict with the proposal, children were less tolerant against inputs marked for word order than for definiteness. Our results suggest that the linearization of objects in German double object constructions is affected by focus and definiteness, but that prosodic principles may have an impact on the position of a focused constituent.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)780-810
Number of pages31
JournalJournal of Child Language
Volume41
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2014
Externally publishedYes

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